“Syria First: We are an ethical alternative to the regime.”
“We started the revolution because we are an ethical alternative, before being a political alternative.”
Syrians woke up on Nov. 8, 2012, to find flyers carrying these statements on streets and parks in many cities in an effort by some activists to amplify the role of nonviolent struggle as the country descended into civil war.
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The “Syria First: We are an ethical alternative” campaign is primarily a reaction to the Syrian regime’s behavior. It also is a response to the actions of the Free Syrian Army and some opposition political forces, which seek to monopolize opposition work. It’s a revolution within the revolution, and was carried out by revolutionaries that disagreed with the actions of others who are opposed to the same regime. The campaign involved several steps:
First: Protesting against some of the excesses of the Free Syria Army and armed opposition brigades. Many reports have been issued by international institutions and human rights organizations accusing the opposition of violating the rights of prisoners and regime soldiers. This was expressed by the slogan: “Our revolution is for Syrian human dignity.”
Second: Protesting against political opposition forces, which failed to properly represent the uprising and fell into rivalry with each other in an unethical manner, attempting to monopolize representation of the opposition. This was expressed by the slogan: “We are an ethical alternative, before being a political alternative.”
Third: Protesting against sectarian rhetoric and violence that have become prevalent among some opposition groups. This was expressed in the slogan: “Our revolution is against sectarianism. One, one, one…The Syrian people are one.” These protests against sectarianism were, in particular, in response to the targeting of pro-regime areas in the Mezzeh 86 district, a predominately Alawite neighborhood in Damascus.
Young, peaceful activists in Damascus and other provinces are carrying out this campaign to show that militarization is not an alternative for nonviolent resistance. Methods include organizing protests, distributing leaflets, painting on walls, composing and writing songs, and disseminating news about the Syrian uprising, and these activities can be followed on the Revolting Syrian Youth website. Activists also aim to gain support from people who haven’t joined the uprising yet.
(In addition to Revolting Syrian Youth, other groups such as Nabd Gathering, April 17, coordinating committees in Aleppo and Daraa, Habbat Kameh in the town of al-Tal, the Free Syrian Army in al-Hajar al-Aswad in Damascus and the FSA in Daraa, and individuals also joined in the campaign).
After much debate on how to address the excesses of the armed opposition, activists agreed on an action plan for the “We are an ethical alternative” campaign.
Leafleting was the method of choice and activists had several objectives: to deliver a message to the political and military opposition groups that their actions are harmful to the revolution and need to be corrected; to speak to Syrians who withdrew support for the revolution or developed a negative perception about the uprising; and, most importantly, to tell the regime that peaceful activism will continue despite the fact that the uprising has been pushed into an armed conflict.
The final point is of great significance. The regime wanted a military confrontation, where the use of force is easier to justify, rather than deal with crushing a peaceful civilian movement. Activists understood this strategy and decided to maintain the nonviolent struggle despite the militarization of the conflict.
Messaging was important, and activists started to think about the slogans they would use for their campaign. They decided on the following:
If they are sectarians, then our revolution is against sectarianism (One, one, one…The Syrian people are one)
If they believe in a single person, then our revolution is for all Syrians (hand in hand).
If they want to humiliate humans, then our revolution is for human dignity in Syrians (Syrian people should not be humiliated).
If they seek to limit the freedom of Syrians, then our revolution is a freedom revolution for all Syrians (God, Syria, and freedom, that’s all).
If they are based on extremism, then our revolution is for a civil democratic pluralistic Syria (Islam and Christianity [together]…We want a civil state).
Flyers were printed and then simultaneously distributed in Damascus and its suburbs, the towns of the Damascus countryside, Aleppo, Latakia, Qamishli and other cities. News of the campaign spread on social networks and was covered by Sky News Arabic and Orient TV (below).
Activist viewed their campaign as a success because it revived the nonviolent struggle, confirming the peaceful means when facing distractions, such as militarization of the opposition and the violence of the regime.
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“It seems that nonviolent struggle has become more important, because it complements the armed opposition in pressuring the regime and at the same time works to correct the excesses of rebel groups,” said an activist who worked on the campaign. “Most importantly, the revolution has started to produce self-correcting mechanisms, and our campaign can be seen as an early revolution against the counter-revolution, which has appeared to confront the Syrian revolution even before its victory. This is the paradox facing Syria today.”